CapFed Best News: A new program geared toward the arts will help artists grow their business

Brianna Childers
Topeka Capital-Journal
Artist INC fellows work during a seminar as part of the eight-week program where they learn the ins and outs of how to operate a business and promote their art. [Facebook]

A new program tailored for artists will aim to guide those of all creative disciplines looking to expand and tap into the business side of art by providing weekly seminars that address the business needs and challenges artists face. 

Artist INC Topeka, a program founded by the Mid-America Arts Alliance, will be hosted locally by ArtsConnect. Applications must be submitted by Jan. 15 and can be found at

A "What Works" workshop will be held at 2 p.m. Monday for artists interested in learning more about the program. 

The eight-week program, which will be held via Zoom starting in March, will cover a variety of topics, including strategic planning and goal setting, building a personal brand, budgeting and financial planning, how to fund your practice, how to be an artist as a solopreneur, public speaking and creating an online presence and sharing artwork with the public. 

According to Sarah Fizell, ArtsConnect executive director and administrator of Artist INC Topeka, the program not only benefits the artists but the Topeka community as a whole. 

"Having our artists be able to go from having multiple jobs to just being an artist, even if we were only able to have a few who make that leap, it's a big deal," Fizell said. "It really starts to build the creative sector and that leans into all of those economic development goals that we seek as a community." 

The Artist INC program, which is offered in multiple states, has been hosted in Kansas City and Lawrence in past years. 

Fizell said she has been interested in bringing the program to Topeka for some time and is hoping to pull in artists who fall within the 80-mile radius set by the program. 

Caleb Asher, left, and Kathy Pflaum, right, hold up a quilt that Pflaum helped create to commemorate the NOTO Arts & Entertainment District's tenth anniversary. [2020 file photo/The Capital-Journal]

"We've had a few Topeka artists who have been able to participate in past years in Lawrence and watching their success, hearing from them about how this program was such a game changer really put it into focus for me as the executive director of ArtsConnect how important it was that we get it here," Fizell said. 

Jancy Pettit and Kathy Pflaum, both Topeka artists, participated in the program when it was offered in Lawrence. 

Pflaum, a fiber artist, said the biggest takeaways for her after completing the program were learning what it takes to run a business for art from marketing to finances to networking. 

"The other thing that really helped me from Artist INC was being able to speak with other artists of all disciplines to be able to find out what has worked for them and what has not," Pflaum said. "Also, I came away with a much better artist CV, an elevator speech and one of the very first things they have you do is to write your obituary and what you want people to know about you when you're gone."

Pflaum said it is important to remember that every artist entering the program is in a different stage of their art career. 

"I was more of beginning and just trying to find my way as far as my art career goes," Pflaum said. "For me, it was a huge learning experience from the standpoint of being able to talk to other artists and other people who have learned along the way as well. Also, just to be able to listen to experts about each of the different topics of marketing and finance. Those things really helped me a lot."

Jancy Pettit, a local Topeka artist, previously took part in the Artist INC program when it was offered in Lawrence. [2017 file photo/The Capital-Journal]

Pettit, who uses the practice of tai chi to create artwork, said because the art she does and her approach are unusual, she was having a difficult time figuring out how to position herself and talk about her work. 

"I thought that it might help that and also because it's different, I was tending to kind of hide," Pettit said. "I didn't want to talk about it so it gave me the words to say and the way to think about it and really kind of got me out of hiding."

Pettit said one of the biggest takeaways were the business skills she learned specifically tailored to artists. 

The program hires a peer facilitator team, which includes Martinez Hillard, Monette Mark, Huascar Medina, Betsy Roe, Michael Toombs and Kelly Yarbrough. That team will lead the seminars and work one on one with the artists. 

Fizell said the program not only teaches artists how to create a business out of their artwork but provides them a community of fellow artists. 

"(The artists) get really close to each other and they get to know each other really well and they become not only champions for each other, but they sort of become their own network that then draws other people in and amplifies not only their work but the works of all artists in Topeka," Fizell said.   

In a difficult year for artists, Fizell said, she gets the sense that people are excited to have the program in Topeka. 

"I know that everyone, whether you're an artist or not, feels really overwhelmed by the world and, I think that that is especially true for artists — especially double true for performing artists and artists whose work requires an audience," Fizell said. "Visual artists have that advantage right now of being able to show their work online and have those images, but performing artists are really going to have to retool and rethink how they do what they do and how they share it. I think that's a really important part of all of this too. I think that artists get really excited when something is for them.

"We have a wonderful array of resources for small biz and entrepreneurs in Topeka, but those are also not always tailored to or inclusive of artists. While some of the issues of artists are the same as any business would be, some of them are very much not. Their work is really personal. If you open a coffee shop that's different than requiring your sort of heart and soul and your experiences as a human on this earth to be how you make your living. I think that acknowledgment is really important and I think that is kind of the magic of the program."